I had the weekend off from preaching – a nice gift every once in a while. This is a homily from 2010. I hope it touches a place in your heart.
Our first reading is gruesome: seven sons and a mother face death at the hands of the foreign king. A king who wants to bend a mom and seven sons to his will – who wants them to deny their faith in the God of Israel and in effect have them acknowledge the king as their lord and master. What drove their heroic courage? One of the brothers in the First Reading says it this way: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him.” Their decision was driven by Hope, fueled by Hope and persevered in Hope.
Their hope in the resurrection, that there is life after death, is that God will rescue them from all enemies, foreign and domestic – even from the maws of death. I can almost hear the opening refrain of the English Poet John Dunne’s Holy Sonnet #10 “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so.” What is it about Hope that has such power that the poet can mock death?
It all begs the question – for each one of us – what fuels and drives Hope?
Do the Sadducees in the gospel have hope? Sure – even though they do not believe in resurrection, they have hope. But let’s be clear (a) they have no hope in themselves, their hope exists solely in their children – as though there is some generational life after death but no personal life after death. Hope is there, but limited, finite, and in the end too easily extinguished. That seems bad enough to me, but even worse (b) they do not really hope in God, because they do not understand the nature of God. As Scripture says, “God is love” – the very nature of God is love. What God does, God does in love. God can do no other. Our 2nd reading tells us that “God our Father, …has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace (2 Thess 2:16). Hope is the fruit of the love of God poured into our souls. So, unlike the Sadducees, we are to have hope within ourselves – because we are loved by God.
Jesus tells the Sadducees that God. “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living”
The Maccabees, our friends and loved one – all those who have done before us. The one we remembered on All Souls days – they are alive. It was God’s love that brought them into the world, love that sustained them, and love that calls them home – and God who will raise them up into new life. Such is the power of love – and this love is the root and foundation of our Hope. Why? Because God keeps love safe.
This divine love that brings us into the world, sustains us, and calls us ever home, is like the rich earth that nurtures great trees. Roots dig deep down in the soil for the nourishment and moisture. Their trunk and greenery grow out of the earth. So too with us. Full and complete lives are rooted in the rich loam of God’s love – seen in the love of family, friend, generations, acts of kindness, and so much more. Life grows out of love.
Love is a force much deeper than life. When earthly life ceases, love stays. Many of us know that from experience. I have been with a fair number of people who lived a full life, are well-loved, and are surrounded by friends and family as they died. A well watched death as the Irish would say. Each time the event was miraculous. Someone I had known and spoken with, someone whose every movement came from a mysterious source of life within them – in a moment was gone. But not the love. Even at the moment of death they were surrounded in love.
Love is a force much deeper than life. Love… bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1 Cor 13:4,7-8) – not even in death.
Did the Sadducees love? Sure… but they limited their experience of love to what this life could provide. The fullness of love is a force deeper than this life; a force that carries – no, propels us in and past this life. One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die. So writes John Dunne.
The first nail has already been hammered into Death’s coffin. See for yourselves – there in our stained glass triptych – the one facing out onto Twigg St –the great picture of the Resurrection. Our witness that love is a much deeper force than life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16) In love Jesus was sent with hope we would believe. In love Jesus was raised with hope we would believe. God keeps love safe.
The question about Resurrection, even for us, is and always has been a question about hope and love. Will we be Sadducees and limit our experience of hope and love to what this world can provide, or will we be Maccabees and dare radically hope in the promise of Resurrection and thus love without limit? Will we surrender to “God our Father, …has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace?”
Will we let our Hope be heroic; will we let it be fueled by Love… [that] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. In life and in death?
“God our Father, …has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace. It can begin anew here in our Eucharist the very source of love, encouragement and good hope. The Eucharist, the fountain fullness ever pouring the offer of God’s love into world. May to drink deeply of that fountain, hope well and love deeply